Spring ’94: The Birth of “Psych Jazz”

Phish 1994 (Unknown)

Phish 1994 (Unknown)

In their heyday, Phish advanced their style of play on a tour-by-tour basis, constantly refining their past while adding facets to their game. Their progression through the groove paradigm of the late-‘90s has been well documented on this site, but the first peak of the band—the years between 1993 and 1995—followed an evolutionary path as well. New Years Eve ’93 in Worcester was the culmination of Phish’ early years. Demolishing The Centrum with arguably the most impressive performance of their career to that point, Phish had peaked out their musical style. 12/31/93 represented the apex of the band’s tight and frenetic “speed jazz” approach to jamming. Most often within song-structure and communicating far more like jazz musicians than the psychedelic rock colossus of later years, the band had honed this style from their earliest days, and it came to a notable head during 1993’s Summer Tour, specifically in the month of August. But after the year came to a close in Worcester, Phish had to find a new path. In a very similar dynamic to their year-end show at Madison Square Garden only two years later, the walls of their musical style could be pushed no further, and the band needed a new focus. The answer to this year-end dilemma of ’93, interestingly enough, would put Phish on a road directly to December 31, 1995.

1994 T Shirt (Pollock)

1994 T Shirt (Pollock)

As the band stepped into the touring year of 1994, in was inhuman to think they could jam any tighter or faster than they had in ’93, so it was time to loosen up. Just a bit at first—and then a whole lot more. Phish’s “speed jazz” jamming of ’93 could be generally described as pushing a musical structure as far as it could possibly go within it’s boundaries. In 1994, the band traveled an outward path, loosening up first over Spring, more over Summer, to Fall where all structure would be obliterated. Along this path towards abstraction, Spring ’94 represented the beginning of the “contortion of structure” phase that intensify throughout the Summer. During Spring tour the band was just starting to bend structures, while their playing was still clearly rooted in the jazzier approach of their previous years. As they took their first steps towards musical deconstruction, Instead of “speed jazz,” Phish began to play “psych jazz.”

With this shift, the band became more adventurous. They were more likely to fully leave a set course of a jam to pursue a sonic tangent. Jams often carried abrupt, stop-start cadences, and carried angular feels. These were the days of centering “Antelope” and “David Bowie” in the wheelhouse of the second set, jams that spurned intricate, conversations with band members playing closely off each others phrases, either repeating or responding to each other in the jazz tradition. There were no effects, no soundcsapes, just straight playing.

11/94 (J. Commentucci)

11/94 (J. Commentucci)

While pointing towards the open-jamming that would infiltrate the band’s live shows in the Fall of the same year, the playing of Spring ’94 was still only months removed from the band’s year-end shows of ’93, and things don’t change in an instant. And therein lies the beauty of this tour. It sounds like balls-out, classic Phish, but with a dash of exploration sprinkled throughout.

Come November Phish would be undertaking, long-form jams such as the Bangor “Tweezer,” Bozeman “Tweezer,” Minneapolis “Bowie,” Providence “Bowie” and many more iconic explorations. One can clearly trace this outward progression from the beginning of Spring ’94, through Summer and Fall, all the way to Summer  ’95—Phish’s most abstract tour. This Spring, they were just scratching the surface of this direction, and for this reason I can see why this tour holds a special place for purists. And the tapes don’t lie.

Today I have put together a Spring ’94 “psych jazz” playlist. (I will do another for Summer.) These jams illustrate the first step away from structure in Phish’s movement towards becoming the most proficient, whole-band improvisers of all time.

David Bowie” 4.13.94 II, New York, NY

A late-second set “Bowie” from the first of three nights at the Beacon Theatre.



Run Like an Antelope” 4.14.94 II, New York, NY

A ferocious, centerpiece “Antelope” that set the tone for the many versions to follow on Spring tour.



David Bowie” 4.17.94 II, Fairfax, VA

“Bowie” jams have started to expand already, as the band many versions early on in tour.



Bathtub Gin” 4.18.94 II, Newark, DE

A short, but sweet “Bathtub Gin” that jumps out of theme.



David Bowie” 4.24.94 II, Charlotte, NC

And this “Bowie,” from the Grady Cole Center, was the version to which all the others were pointing.



Tweezer” 5.7.94 II, Dallas, TX

The Bomb Factory “Tweezer” represented a big turning point in the band’s willingness to let things move far outside the box.



Run Like an Antelope” 5.8.94 II, Bee Cave, TX

Phish’s mojo was still working the night after the Bomb Factory, as evidenced by this centerpiece “Antelope.”



Split Open and Melt” 5.13.94 II, Tempe, AZ

A “Melt” from the desert



Run Like an Antelope > BBFCFM > Antelope” 5.16.94 II, LA, CA

The now-legendary “Big Black Furry Antelope” from LA’s WIltern Theatre.



Tweezer” 5.28.94 II, Monterey, CA

Spring ’94 ended at Laguna Seca Daze festival along the central California coast. Phish played two-setters each night. This was the “Tweezer” from the first night.



Split Open and Melt” 5.29.94 II, Monterey, CA

And the “Split” from the tour-closer.

[audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Phish-1994-05-29-Split-Open-and-Melt.mp3] Tags: ,

2,138 Responses to “Spring ’94: The Birth of “Psych Jazz””

  1. phishm Says:

    Some good points, some bad points. Trey won’t be dead at age 53. Dude seems to be healthy and enjoying life. He doesn’t appear to be tormented by inner demons as back in the day. I know inner turmoil makes great music, but also only makes it for only so long. I guess it’s probably hard to make the type of music of yesterday when healthy and enjoying life. Good thing I still enjoy what he’s making. It would suck to not to.

  2. phishm Says:

    As tiring as it sounds. It just baffles my mind to think that someone would purchase a ticket to a Phish show in hopes that they will play like they did that other time. Sure I get wanting to get that first feeling back again, but to not allow it to do to you what it did the first time seems futile to the goal at hand. I think the term is surrender to the flow. Sure the flow changes, but the message remains the same IMO. Either way, I’m just Friday babbling after reaching that buzz that I have been looking forward to all week. Nothing like getting down to music without the worry in the back of my mind that work will call any minute to escalate a problem that I have to fix.

  3. phishm Says:

    Last thought. When you really listen hard to the GA>Caspian that precede the Light (Dick’s 2012) it makes a huge difference. What a great set of music.

  4. MiA Says:

    Pretty women out walking with gorillas down my street…

  5. MiA Says:

    From my window I’m staring as my coffee goes cold

  6. BooVT Says:

    ‘Cause if my eyes don’t deceive me
    There’s something going wrong around here

  7. phishm Says:

    But if looks could kill
    There’s a man there who is marked down as dead

  8. sumodie Says:


    “The drummer spoke with Joe Steinberger for well over an hour and the station even took calls from listeners. Unlike most promotional appearances, Fish’s visit didn’t focus on Fuego. He certainly discussed the album, but he also spoke about a variety of topics including the current state of Phish, what he did during the period when Phish broke up, the impact of other musicians on his work and much more.

    Some of the revelations were that he stopped playing drums for a year when Phish broke up, the band had 25 songs to choose from before recording Fuego, bassist Mike Gordon is the funniest guy he ever met, he admitted the band can’t play songs at the quick tempos they did in the past and that the beginning of the drum part of “Fuego” is based on “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover.”

    Fishman was even asked a question about the “second jam” in “Mike’s Song” that has disappeared for the last 15 or so years and pretty much had no idea what the caller was talking about, but seemed intrigued and wants to listen to an old version, so there’s that.”

    Rockland, Maine of course ;0>

  9. MiA Says:

    I wash my hair and I kid myself I look real smooth

  10. garretcorncob Says:

    Thanks for the heads up, sumo. Giving it a listen right now, pretty interesting. Low-key. Fish ain’t bullshitting, which is fun.

  11. xpun Says:

    I love how the band doesn’t know shit about the things we obsess over.

    Getting pretty excited about summer. Got the work schedule cleared up to hit as much as possible.

    Still need a couch or floor for nyc. Xpun25 yahoo

  12. phishm Says:

    How can you say that xpun? If they can hear you when you sigh then I have to imagine they are keen on a lot of our issues. It must suck to have that ability. Being able to feel how others feel at all times. That would be the worst. Must be exhausting.

  13. xpun Says:

    Just getting it from sumo’s post about fish’s response to mike’s second jam

    There’s a lot of possession going on in that sentence

  14. sumodie Says:

    Fishman radio interview is a great listen. Unguarded, open ended conversation on many music related topics. Not just phish specific

    Most interesting 3.0 interview I know of

  15. sumodie Says:

    Lol, first listener question for Fish is whether some song placements have gotten stale

  16. phishm Says:

    Fish’s answer “uh, ya. I have no say in it. So be it”. Speculation of course.

  17. MiA Says:

    This song starts with Fishman …

  18. Dorn76 Says:

    Jack White Lazaretto gets a cameo on sports center.

    They ‘d never go with Fuego.


  19. Dorn76 Says:

    Xpun I got your Sat. Randall ‘s floor space.

  20. Jerome Garcia Says:

    Señor Dorn is a King amongst men. East Coast Hospitable Case.

    NiagaReba & lettin it roll…

  21. Dorn76 Says:

    We are hopeless nerds. The band doesn’t even know what the “mike’s 2nd jam” is.

  22. BingosBrother Says:

    That is disconcerting. When you think about the band more than the band thinks about the band, well… Praise jah for Pussy Arm.

  23. dorn76 Says:

    One quick 34 min spin of Albany ’95 YEM w/coffee & porch meds, all is right with the World.

  24. xpun Says:

    Awesome dorn. Hit me up by email and we can get the details. Thanks

    Jack white vinyl link. May be old info for most of you. Some cool features.

  25. Spasm Waiter Says:

    Wow that “pussy arm” comment I made in New Orleans really has some legs…